Covington Road is the poor (and more sane) person’s Old Priest Grade. While Old Priest Grade is something to ponder for those who like the challenge of a bike ride with an intense climb, it is narrow and windy with heavy vehicle traffic. Covington Road is no less ridiculously steep, but you may not encounter a car on the way up the hill. Your wheezing will sound much the same, and at the speed you’ll be climbing, you probably won’t care that the pavement is pretty funky. If you can handle 0.6 miles of gravel to connect to Big Hill Road, you can descend on Big Hill and do it all over again.
Comparing numbers (average slope and taking Google with a grain of salt):
Covington Road: 1.3 miles @ 16% (steepest stretch)
Covington Road: 2.3 miles @ 13% (climb to top)
Old Priest Grade: 1.9 miles @ 15.4%
Marshes Flat Road: 1.4 miles @ 14%
Yankee Hill Road: (paved): 2.3 miles @ 12%
Big Hill Road: 3.2 miles @ 9%
Sonora Pass: 8.5 miles @ 7.6% (Kennedy Meadows to Pass)
I’m presenting two loops including Covington Road–this one with maximum pavement; another about 50/50 paved and unpaved will be posted next as the Columbia Ridge Loop. Descending on Covington Road is not much fun–too steep, bumpy, windy to enjoy much speed, so the ride works best in the counter clockwise direction.
Start in Columbia and head east on Jackson Street/Yankee Hill Road for approximately 1.3 miles. Turn right onto Sawmill Flat Road at the intersection with the hydraulic mining monitor which looks like a huge hose nozzle (because it is a huge hose nozzle). Ride south about 0.75 miles to Covington Road and make a left to start climbing. If you’ve reached the College entrance you’ve missed Covington Road. Turn back and look on the right a couple hundred feet back. Watch the signs to stay on Covington Road and, eventually, Columbia Crest Drive.
Continue north on the paved road until it forks in three directions. The right turn is paved and proceeds to the east around Telegraph Peak. The center option is someone’s driveway, and the left road eventually turns to dirt and heads up the west side of Telegraph toward the peak. Since this is the paved loop, take the road to the right.
Enjoy the wide paved road and the view to the east of the Phoenix Lake basin and Big Hill. The dirt road and paved road rejoin on the north side of Telegraph Peak and the road turns to gravel for 0.6 miles before meeting Big Hill Road. The gravel surface is pretty decent, though there are a few whopper potholes. Turn left on Big Hill and descend to Sawmill Flat. Return to Columbia via Yankee Hill Road/Jackson Street.
Download file to view the ride on the Google Earth bike map
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Download the .gpx file for the loop if you want to upload it to a GPS
- Downside—Steep to extremely steep climbing along exposed ridge, rough pavement, short gravel segment, navigating on lightly traveled and seemingly remote roads, may not work out in winter weather.
- Upside—Short loop and an intense workout, great views.
- 10.3 miles, about 2,200 feet total climb, 0.6 miles of gravel.
- roads: paved, with gravel segment.
- terrain: steep to extremely steep.
- tires: road to cross.
- seasons: All but winter during or after storms.
- current weather